It is now THQ's turn to try to beat Call of Duty at their own game with Kaos Studios' Homefront. EA's Medal of Honor was not totally convincing though it did not affect sales that much, so it won't be easy for the Californian pusblisher. The developers have something up their sleeve to make a difference since John Milius was responsible for writing the game's story. The clear influence of Half Life 2 can also be felt and Valve's fans will probably notice a few tongue and cheek references. For once, we have been able to give the multiplayer modes a try since THQ organized a special event last week. I'll leave you with the 'plat de resistance', inside. Update : Story Trailer added
A story the North Korea government would die for
As you will see in the introduction video below, real life events have been used to serve as a basis for the main plot. They even went as far as to find an actor that looks a lot like Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il's son. The attention to detail to create a believable world is palpable, and the devastated lands of the US clearly show all the horror and distress people now live in. To make the game even more realistic, the developers included collectibles in the form of newspapers that tell the player more about the circumstances that led to the war.
The Korean army now occupies the beautiful city of San Francisco and they stop at nothing to make sure everything is under their control, even if it means committing the worst atrocities. The very beginning of the game sets the mood immediately so expect to see very emotional scenes. As far as I'm concerned, I have found some of them to be really chilling and they will probably be hard to forget. You play the role of a civilian, a former army pilot who will find himself in the heart of the resistance and become key to all the events that will unfold.
You're not born a resistance fighter, you become one
Because of a single gunshot fired at a Korean soldier, the fate of the main character is sealed and he becomes an active member of the rebellion. With the help of a few members of an isolated cell, you will quickly learn how ruthless and heartless the enemy is. Contrary to what some might think, the American patriotism one has come to expect in such a context is not that present. Sure, you'll spot an American flag in the environment once in a while, sometimes a character might even sound a bit patriotic but overall, no political brainwashing per se. The main protagonists that will accompany you won't say much about their past and will mostly keep to themselves. Because of that, it makes it hard to care for them and there is very little chance that you feel attracted to Rianna the way you did with Alyx Vance from Half Life 2. The hero himself is not very charismatic, which may come from the fact that he's not the talkative type. Though on second thought, Gordon Freeman was not very talkative either.
Scripted games are generally very straightforward and Homefront probably beats them all in that area. To say that you are going to feel like someone is holding you by the hand would be quite an understatement. In Homefront, you must follow everything you are told to do if you do not want to fail. In the first chapter for example, you are chased by a chopper that fires at you as soon as you are in plain sight. So far, so good. The problem is that, if you do not pick a weapon the second you're told to, your partners won't open the door in time for you to escape the helicopter. Now, soldiers need to be very obedient and follow orders, I'll give you that, but I'm not so sure players will be very happy to be stuck between invisible walls just so they will stick to the one and only path (a symbol of the extremely linear level design). Add to that the fact that your teammates sometimes keep repeating to you the objective at hand, not to mention the written indication invading the screen, and you will easily understand how tempting it is to just shoot them dead to feel free at last...
Firearms at will
In spite of these flaws, the game manages to deliver a very effective atmosphere in the sequences that don't require the use of guns. To offer you a nice break from the high-paced shooting sections, the game sometimes gives you time to immerse yourself in the story. Such sequences are more contemplative than anything else - you can witness heart-breaking situations, feel all the sorrow of the victims, the melancholy of the rebels that do their best to survive. It also gives the players a reason to fight against the Korean oppressor. Thankfully, to do so, you are given quite a powerful arsenal.
All the firearms that are available in the game are of course real military weapons: M249, SMG, M4 or even the famous American M16, you name it! Every time you hit an enemy, it will be confirmed with a small cross that will appear on screen, letting you know you did not miss. What I also found interesting is the fact that you can never carry a lot of ammo in your guns, which forces you to switch weapons very often on the battleground and stay very mobile. Because of that, you can also enjoy the diversity of sound the weapons make when using them.
When intelligence can get artificial
Music in Homefront is obviously very orchestral but as odd as it may sound, it does not make the game more immersive. Maybe it has to do with the graphics engine that definitely looks dated. The textures, the background and the explosions sometimes have a sort of mosaic look, as if the developers had intended to pay tribute to 19th century neo-impressionism. One should also mention the invisible walls I was talking about earlier and the problems with collision detection when you don't go where you are supposed to. It'd be easy to forget about all this if the AI was perfect, but when you get stuck at the entrance of a building because an ally is blocking the way, or when they simply stand in front of your line of fire, it will probably piss you off a bit. Now fortunately, enemy AI is challenging enough to make it interesting. The soldiers you are up against will not hesitate to flank you should you stay put, or throw grenades at you.
So yes, there is some challenge, even in normal mode. Sometimes it even does not feel fair, as thick walls do not seem thick enough to keep you out of harm's way and grenades seem to be attracted to you a bit too easily. A bit like in Call of Duty, you will have to keep moving forward on the battlefield because of a constant respawn of enemies. To bring more variety to the game, some sequences will give you control of a semi-autonomous combat drone. With the help of a targeter, you simply need to pick who or what will be fired at and leave the drone to do the dirty job, which is very efficient against Humvees or tanks I'm telling you. Also in the menu, bullet time sequences to allow you to take down multiple enemies very quickly, or stealth sections in which you, again, must follow the instructions you are given to the letter.
A lot of toys to play with in multiplayer
Thanks to THQ - and Microsoft whom actually hosted the event -, we were able to give multiplayer a try. We obviously did not have enough time to explore all the possibilities it featured but we still got a good chance to forge our opinion on its potential. Classes have now become pretty standard in multiplayer FPS so it is no wonder to find them all here: assault, sniper, explosive expert, etc. The main difference with Homefront is that each class can unlock specific equipment to give a player the upper hand. So basically, if you score enough points on the battlefield, you can purchase a bulletproof vest, an anti-armor rocket launcher, or, even more fun, a combat helicopter or a miniature machine gun drone on wheels. If you reach higher scores, you can even bring tanks to the party, as well as armed to the teeth choppers. And if that's not enough, then why not simply launch fatal airstrikes?
Three pretty standard game modes are proposed: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Ground Control. The two last modes can use the “Battle Commander” function that allows the AI to assign a priority target to add to the other objectives. Thus, you can obtain bonus points if you manage to take down the designated target. If the targeted player puts up a fight and gets rid of his assailants, then it is he who improves his reputation and, of course, the amount of bonus points he gets. The player who takes down the priority target becomes one on his turn. One more thing we like about multiplayer is the size of the different maps that offer really open environments that are in sharp contrast with the corridor-like levels of the single player campaign.
Homefront may have a difficult time finding its place in the sun among the triple A titles of the genre, but it is nonetheless a decent game to play. The story is composed of 7 chapters filled with action and emotion. The two final chapters particularly are quite memorable, with a very high pace and a good feeling of urgency. It can't be denied that Kaos Studios' game is not perfect and that the campaign is also way too short. Thankfully, multiplayer looks convincing enough to be pretty promising provided the servers are full. With up to 32 players online, pretty big maps and the many tools and vehicles to buy with the points gained in action, it is indeed well-equipped to satisfy the fans of the genre.